Newcomer Bets ‘Wiki’ Open-Source Movement Can Help Win Senate Election

A computer entrepreneur from Utah is launching a campaign to unseat incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) next year — in what may be the most heavily Internet-reliant campaign to date, using blogs, chats and the “Wiki” open-source model.

Peter Ashdown is the founder of Xmission, Utah’s oldest Internet service provider (ISP). His Web site includes a blog and a monthly live chat session. But Ashdown’s site takes public participation on his campaign Web site one step further — opening his platform to all. The site is based on the “Wiki” open-source model made famous by Wikipedia.

Internet Tactics

A Democrat, Ashdown is hoping to take on the fundraising advantage Hatch enjoys in the predominantly Republican state with the Internet. “My small business resourcefulness gives me the rock and my knowledge of the Internet is the sling. When Goliath falls, the people will be happy to see special interests fall along side of him,” said Ashdown.

The candidate makes frequent updates to his blog on a variety of topics, from civil liberties to copyright laws to mathematics. This is a campaign a computer nerd would love. “I continue to advocate for the preservation and expansion of Fourth Amendment privacy rights. Conversely, if elected, my office will be as transparent as possible without violating others’ individual privacy,” wrote Ashdown in a December 19 posting.

Ashdown is a native resident of Utah, and attended Salt Lake Community College before completing his computer science degree at the University of Utah. He founded his firm after working for a computer graphics show, Evans & Sutherland. He is married, and one of his children, he said, was able to use a Web browser before he could talk.

It’s natural to wonder whether a newcomer stands a chance at unseating a nationally known senator who has been in the Congress for 30 years. But a poll released in November shows that only 45 percent of Utah residents say they want Hatch re-elected. A total of 48 percent say it’s time to pick someone new for the Senate, raising the possibility that Ashdown’s campaign is not a completely Don Quixote, Man of LaMancha-like effort.

The question put by pollster Dan Jones & Associates is known as a “naked re-elect” because there are no opposing candidates cited.

Prescient Poll?

The firm asked asked 400 adults: “Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Republican, is running for a sixth term in the U.S. Senate. Do you believe Hatch should be re-elected to the Senate, or is it time to give someone new a chance to serve?”

In the past, similar polls of popular Utah politicians find that more than 50 percent of their constituents want them to be re-elected

A 1998 poll on then-Governor Mike Leavitt asked if he should win a third term in 2000, and 64 percent said Leavitt should be re-elected. This has prompted some public speculation among Democratic Party leaders in Utah that Ashdown has a legitmate shot at the nomination, but Sen. Hatch’s camp discounts the talk.

Ashdown has taken off the gloves in recent weeks — virtually, at least — posting statements on his Web site that are critical of Sen. Hatch. One statement claimed that Sen. Hatch’s statements in support of the White House’s policy on interrogation techniques used to obtain information from terrorists amounted to coming out on the side of “fear, torture and injustice.”

Equal Opportunity

The candidate has also attacked a bill that Sen. Hatch supported — which has not passed the Senate — that would regulate all non-blog political activity online. “For the first time in the history of democracy, the Internet presents an opportunity for all to have an equal voice,” said Ashdown.

While the candidate stakes out the left, Sen. Hatch is staking out the right. Earlier this month, he introduced legislation to strengthen a law for protecting children from the exploitation of child pornography online.

“Children are pornography’s most vulnerable and most devastated victims,” Hatch said. “Abusing children through early exposure to pornography has life-long effects. Even worse, however, is the actual use of children to make sexually explicit material. Those who produce sexually explicit material are breaking the law if that material depicts children, and this bill enhances our ability to bring these pornographers to justice.”

Federal law prohibits using children to produce visual depictions of either actual or simulated sexually explicit conduct online. Those who produce this material must keep records regarding the age of performers and must make those records available for inspection. Hatch’s bill, S. 2140, strengthens this record-keeping statute in several key areas, including the following:

  • Defines actual sexually explicit material consistently with corresponding sections in the United States Code. The current law incorporates only four of the five definitions outlined in other sections.
  • Applies the same record-keeping requirements to those who produce depictions of simulated conduct. Current law applies only to those who produce depictions of actual conduct.
  • Explicitly states that refusal to permit inspection of age-related records is a crime. Current law only requires maintaining the records, but it provides no penalty for refusing to disclose them.

“If we are serious in protecting children from being exploited by child pornographers, we need a workable, practical law that’s enforceable,” Hatch said. “This is a straight-forward, common-sense bill that will strengthen this important tool for protecting children.”

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